Remember What You’ve Got This Christmas: Homelessness in Bristol
Barker explores homelessness in Bristol in the lead up to Christmas.
This year, like last year and the year before, the majority of us will sit down together as a family, second cousins and great aunts you briefly remember meeting for a big Christmas meal in the name of family or Jesus or something. And although the thought of having to converse with distant relatives for the day sounds terrible, it could be a lot worse, you could be out in the freezing cold just trying to get a warm meal in you before you settle down in a shop doorway for the night. So my thoughts turn to the homeless.
The past few years have seen a huge increase as the numbers doubled from 41 in 2014 to 97 in 2015
Bristol has the highest number of rough sleepers in the UK outside of London and has seen a huge increase in the last few years. According to Bristol Post, in 2010 there were only eight people recorded as living out on the streets, and numbers have doubled from 41 in 2014 to 97 in 2015. Bristol is the third wealthiest city in the UK so why aren’t these people housed? Over a four-year period, council spending on services that work to prevent homelessness will be cut by around 40%. Last year ex-Bristol mayor George Ferguson promised to open four empty buildings to anyone sleeping rough but this never happened. Due to the increasing demand for housing in Bristol, the old abandoned sorting offices next to Temple Meads, which have been empty since 1997, were originally going to be turned into 107 new flats and several studio workspaces and offices, providing new housing in the city. However, these plans came to a close last year when Ferguson bought the property for six million using a £5.4 million grant from the government to turn it into a university campus. I’m not saying this would solve the homeless crisis in Bristol, but if the council are promising new buildings and beds then projects like this are the first step.
So I went out into the street to talk those sleeping rough, many (understandably) didn’t want to be involved, but a couple of people sat down with me and these are the stories that they shared with me:
I saw Matt sat on Pero’s Bridge near the Harbourside, asking for change, a hotspot for the homeless as it receives lots of pedestrian traffic. I sat down with him for a chat and this is what he told me:
‘I left my girlfriend and job to come to Bristol to start a new life, it didn’t exactly go to plan. While I was trying to secure housing and work I became homeless and began sleeping rough on the streets,’ he explained. I asked him about his relationship with the police and the council and if they were doing anything to help. ‘Not really,’ he tells me .‘The police and Police Community Support Officers move you on and I’ve never seen any members of the council out here. The council won’t give me any help because you have to document six months of homelessness here before they even offer you any help. If you go to the bear pit there are charities that give tents and sleeping bags out a few times a year which is nice, but apart from that the council and police don’t seem to care’. I asked Matt about the council promising to open up empty buildings for the homeless. ‘I haven’t seen any,’ he tells me glumly. ‘We’ve heard that, and they’ve been saying it for a while but I don’t know whether they will or not.’
‘I’ve been homeless in Bristol for three months,’ he tells me. ‘I got released from prison about a year ago and I’ve been homeless ever since. I was originally sleeping rough in my home town Bournemouth.’ I asked him what the difference was between Bournemouth and Bristol for the homeless. ‘It’s hard being homeless there because people think you’re going to rob them if they speak to you, there’s no money there, it’s all gone. Where I’m from you can’t even sit on the streets, they’ll move you along before you’ve even sat down’ he answered. I inquired about the police and how they deal with rough sleepers here. ‘The police are fine,’ he said. ‘It’s the community support that move us along. The police put the work on the PCSOs because they can’t be bothered with us, then the PCSOs hassle us and move us.’ James was sitting outside of Sainsbury’s wrapped in a blanket and a sleeping bag, I bought him a drink and we sat down to converse.
I asked if there was anything that regular folks could do to help. ‘Just stop and have a chat,’ he replied. ‘We’re all humans, just take five minutes of your day to really talk to someone. Don’t feel bad if you don’t have any change to give, just say hello.’
So What Can We Do To Help?
There are many charities that help the homeless in Bristol, all of which welcome new volunteers to the team.
Bristol Homeless Forum: For anything to do with homelessness this website is the roots. BHF provides links and advice to those who are homeless or looking to get involved to help, with links to accommodation & food, support services and campaigns. A great starting point for anyone who wants to be involved and help out.
St Mungo’s: St Mungo’s provides outreach and floating support as well as hostel accommodation and a range of health and recovery services. They help people move into appropriate accommodation and help those at risk of sleeping rough, their housing team provide beds and help for the homeless in Bristol. Their floating team offers to support people looking to live independently in their own homes, this may be helping with health appointments, making sure they’re receiving the right benefits or linking them with skills, job or training opportunities.
Julian Trust: The Julian Trust Night shelter is located in premises in Little Bishop Street on the edge of St Pauls. The premises were converted from a warehouse and feature facilities for guests such as a large dormitory with eighteen emergency beds, bathrooms, showers, a kitchen and several stores and a dining area. During the Christmas period the night shelter is open for 24 hours a day for seven to 10 days. During this time, seasonal food and entertainment are provided and special permission is granted by Bristol City Council for approximately fifty guests to stay overnight.
1625 Independent People: I1625 Independent People is a charity and support group that specialises in helping young people aged 16-25 reboot their lives. They provide housing, life skills, confidence-building and education. They offer a range of different project to help out young people from running workshops to helping them manage their money and many more.
For more information on homelessness in Bristol check out Owain’s documentary, ‘Crisis and Hope’
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